For the first time since the 1988-89 campaign, there will be a new sideline boss opening the season for the Utah Jazz.
The NBA lockout took precedence over the entire league, but now that the two sides have agreed on a new deal basketball has become the focal point. In Utah, starting the season without head coach Jerry Sloan could have an eerie feel to it. It's now Tyrone Corbin's team and the former player took over for Sloan last season when the longtime mentor opted to resign.
Many speculated that Sloan couldn't work with star point guard Deron Williams anymore and wanted out ASAP. He called it quits in the middle of his 23rd season with the team and made the move just days after signing a contract extension. Williams was later traded to the New Jersey Nets.
"My time is up, and it's time to move on," Sloan said at a press conference.
Sloan, 68, took over the Jazz early in the 1988-89 season and had been the longest-tenured head coach in American professional sports before walking away. Including two-plus seasons with the Chicago Bulls, Sloan went 1,221-803 as an NBA head coach. Corbin, meanwhile, had served as an assistant coach under Sloan since the 2004-05 season and went 8-20 last season.
The Jazz had reached the playoffs in four straight seasons before the 2010-11 campaign and their 39 wins were the least since going 26-56 in 2004-05.
Corbin's style may not have been conducive with the type of players he has and that's too bad since the Utah brass felt Corbin best fit the job. With Williams and forward Carlos Boozer elsewhere, the Jazz will have to convert miracles with top players Al Jefferson, Mehmet Okur, Paul Millsap, Devin Harris and C.J. Miles. Youngster Derrick Favors showed some promise down low and gives Corbin another option to go big.
Utah has finished no better than third in the Northwest Division in two of the previous three seasons and is not expected to do much again this season. Teams tend to avoid the "rebuilding year" moniker, but the Jazz have no choice.
2010-11 Results: 39-43, fourth in Northwest, Missed playoffs
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
PG- Devin Harris SG- Raja Bell SF- C.J. Miles PF- Paul Millsap C- Al Jefferson
KEY RESERVES: SF Gordon Hayward, C Enes Kanter, SG Alec Burks, F DerricK Favors, F/C Mehmet Okur
FRONTCOURT: Al Jefferson played in all 82 games for the Jazz last season, registering 18.6 points, a team-high 9.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks. It was the big man's first year in the Mormon State after three years with Minnesota and is one of Corbin's top players. The durable Jefferson can bang inside with the best of them and brings a knack of offense to his repertoire. An injury to Jefferson would be devastating to a team that has so much potential. He posted 37 double-doubles last season.
Paul Millsap was second in points scored with 17.3 ppg and also grabbed 7.6 boards in 76 games. He has played no less than 76 games in each of his five seasons with the Jazz. Millsap and Jefferson can give opposing teams, such as the rest of the Northwest, headaches with their ability to stay healthy all season.
Small forward C.J. Miles, who posted 12.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 78 games a year ago, came off the bench for the most of the season in 2010-11. Miles provided a major spark off the bench, but now is expected to start for Corbin. In 19 games as a starter last season, Miles average 15.7 points and 3.8 boards. He recorded 11.9 points and 3.1 rebounds per game as a reserve. Small forward and longtime Jazz player Andrei Kirilenko remains a free agent and not expected to return.
BACKCOURT: Devin Harris was the sexy piece to the Williams trade with New Jersey and played 17 games in his new digs, averaging 15.8 points and 5.4 assists. As a Mavericks from 2004-2007, Harris was considered an up-and-coming quarterback and those sentiments haven't altered. The wiry Harris should take off with the Jazz in his first full season with the club and posted a career- high 18 assists versus rival Denver on Jan. 31, 2011. He also finished the season with a career-best .833 free throw percentage.
Defensive stalwart Raja Bell appeared in 68 games with Utah a year ago and posted 8.0 points and 2.6 rebounds. Bell is expected to be Corbin's top shooting guard unless something comes up in free agency, but his defensive prowess will certainly keep him on the floor quite often.
The Jazz added veteran guard Jamaal Tinsley earlier this month.
BENCH: Rookie guard Alec Burks and center Enes Kanter have talented and mindful players and coaches to look up to as they develop into NBA players. The two rookies were plucked in the recent draft and bring potential upside to a team lacking talent off of the bench.
Forward Derrick Favors could supplant Miles in the starting lineup, but Corbin was pleased with his experiment with the latter in the starting lineup toward the end of last season. Favors had a solid rookie campaign a year ago and had 8.2 points to go along with 5.2 rebounds in 22 games last season. The No. 3 pick in last year's draft, Favors had his best month of the season in April, averaging 9.6 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game.
Forwards Gordon Hayward and Jeremy Evans give Corbin more depth inside and can spell Jefferson or Millsap when need be. Tinsley will be a nice addition off of the bench if he doesn't crack the starting lineup. Utah inked forward Josh Howard to bulk up the inside game and hopes to be a full strength after playing in only 18 games last season with Washington If Okur can remain healthy Utah will only be that much better.
COACHING: After more than 27 years with the Utah organization, Sloan stepped down from his post in February and ushered in a new regime under Corbin. Corbin, 48, is the seventh head coach in Jazz history and the fourth head coach since the franchise's relocation from New Orleans, and put his nose to the grindstone in order to improve the team as soon as the lockout was lifted. The former Jazz player was named an assistant under Sloan back in 2004 and his knowledge of the game made it easy for the Jazz to name him as Sloan's successor. It's a new look and feel for Utah's beloved basketball team, which still has its work cut out for the upcoming campaign. The team also hired Michael Sanders as a player development coach to work with the team's younger big guys such as Favors and Kanter. Hopefully the new additions won't result in another 8-20 collapse like last season.
OUTLOOK: Jazz GM Kevin O'Connor didn't do much to tinker with the roster in such a limited amount of time after the lockout, but appears somewhat satisfied with the players currently on the roster, especially Jefferson and Millsap. O'Connor pretty much shut down any talks of a rebuilding season and youth has no bearing on how he feels either. Perhaps Corbin starting the season as the man in charge instead of getting thrown into the fire after Sloan suddenly stepped will help in the team's transition back to respectability. It will take some time putting the right players in the best position to win, but the Jazz are headed back into the right direction.